Offense, Defense Key Alabama Over Aggies

If the Texas A&M defense couldn’t tackle Alabama tailback Derrick Henry, what chance did the Aggies offense have of tackling Crimson Tide defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Eddie Jackson? That’s a rhetorical quesition, but the answer is “Not much.”

Alabama got 236 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Derrick Henry and a combined 207 yards and three touchdowns from defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Eddie Jackson as the Crimson Tide won its second road game against a top ten opponent with a 41-23 win over Texas A&M in College Station Saturday.

Bama improved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in Southeastern Conference games, while the Aggies fell to 5-1 (2-1 in SEC games). Alabama was ranked tenth by the Associated Press and ninth in the Coaches Poll. Texas A&M was ninth by the AP and 10th by the Coaches.

Earlier this year Bama defeated sixth-ranked Georgia in Athens.

Alabama returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium next week to host Tennessee. The Vols, 3-3 overall and 1-2 in SEC games, were idle this weekend. The Tide and Vols will play at 2:30 p.m. CDT with CBS televising the game for the second consecutive week.

Henry had 32 rushes for 236 yards and two touchdowns and had a long run of 55 yards for one of those scores. Jacob Coker was 19-25 passing with no interceptions or touchdowns for 138 yards, was sacked only once, and managed 7 carries for a net of 13 yards gained. Calvin Ridley was Bama’s leading receiver with 7 catches for 52 yards. Richard Mullaney had 4-32 and O.J. Howard 3-35.

Fitzpatrick, a freshman nickel back, had two interceptions and returned both for touchdowns – a 33-yard runback to start the scoring and a 55-yard return for the final TD of the game. In between, Eddie Jackson had a pair of interceptions, one returned for 93 yards and a touchdown, one returned 26 yards to set up an important fourth quarter field goal.

Adam Griffith had a good day kicking, making field goals of 32 and 20 yards and all five of his extra point kicks and had five touchbacks on kickoffs. JK Scott averaged 48.2 yards on ei,ght punts, but the punting game had its bad points. One, Scott suffered a blocked punt (that does not count against him individually). Two, Tide punt return man Cyrus Jones let a fumble (which led to an Aggies touchdown) ruin the end of a nice runback. And three, the Tide allowed Texas A&M’s outstanding freshman Christian Kirk a 62-yard runback for a touchdown.

In the statistic borrowed from basketball, Alabama had 24 points off turnovers, Texas A&M 7.

The offensive numbers were perhaps more modest than might have been expected from these teams. Bama had 17 first downs to 16 for A&M. The Tide had 45 rushes for 258 yards, A&M 25 runs for only 32 yards. Alabama’s passing total was Coker’s total, 19-25 for 138, while three Aggies passers combined for 22-45 for 284 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. In total offense, Alabama had 70 plays for 396 yards, 5.7 yards per play, and Texas A&M had 70 plays for 316 yards, 4.5 per play.

Both teams had two fumbles with Alabama losing one, A&M recovering both of its miscues.

Alabama was penalized 7 times for 60 yards, the Aggies a single p;enalty for 5 yards.

Both teams were poor on third downs, Alabama 4-16 (though successful on its one fourth down try) and Texas A&M 7-18 (and failing on its one fourth down attempt). The Tide had a solid advantage in time of possession, 36:22 to 23:38.

Three big plays and one particularly big play-maker – Henry – enabled Alabama to overcome penalties and kicking game mistakes to take a 28-13 first half lead. By day’s end, Fitzpatrick and Jackson were at least equal in the hero department.

It didn’t take a television expert analyst to pick out the difference for the Crimson Tide.

The Aggies got their second possession started with Kyle Allen overthrowing his receiver, and freshman Bama nickel back Fitzpatrick reeturning it down the right sideline for 33 yards and a touchdown midway through the first quarter. Adam Griffith’s point after kick made it 7-0.

Alabama’s second possession of the game, beginning at its 21-yard line, was quite a bit better than A&M’s had been with Henry gaining 15 yards on a run up the middle and Coker passing to Richard Mullaney for 9. On second-and-1 from the Tide 45, Henry went up the middle and avoided tacklers (or perhaps it was the other way around) and dashed to the end zone and a 14-0 Bama lead.

The Aggies cut the lead to 14-6 on the strength of Taylor Bertolet’s first field goal, a 54-yard effort just before the end of the first quarter.

Bama got another Henry touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. Freshman tailback Damien Harris got it started with a positive kickoff return to the Bama 32. Coker hit O.J. Howard for 24 yards and two plays later Henry ran for 24 yards. He had a 14-yard run on the next play and the Tide opened the second quarter looking at fist-and-goal from the A&M 6. The correct call was “give the ball to Henry,” which was done, and he powered in for the 21-3 lead.

Bertolet’s 52-yard field goal a few minutes later cut it to 21-6.

The Aggies seemed to be in position to get points when A&M drove to a first down at the Alabama 30. Allen, however, was picked off by safety Eddie Jackson at the 7 and Jackson returned it 93 yards – third longest in Alabama history and his second of the season – to give the Tide a 28-6 lead with 6:28 left until intermission.

Bama had a very poor possession that started with a targeting call on Shawn Hamilton on a punt return. (Hamilton was disqualified for the remainder of the game.)

After a series of misplays, JK Scott had a nice punt to A&M freshman star Chritian Kirk, who took it at his 32 and went down the left sidelines for a touchdown, cutting the Bama lead to 28-13. A&M’s 55-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the first half was not close.

Late in the second quarter, J.C. Hassenauer replaced Ryan Kelly at center. Alabama Coach Nick Saban would say later that Kelly was “a little whoozy” and Kelly was held out the second half. There were a couple of early false starts with Hassenauer in, but all-in-all his first meaningful play in a tough environment was successful.

Early in the third quarter, Cyrus Jones fumbled at the end of a nice return, setting the Aggies up at Bama’s 47. Kyle Allen threw a 44-yard pass to Ricky Seals-Jones for a first-and-goal at the Bama 3, and the same combination got the touchdown a play later. It was an eight-point game, 28-20.

Things looked dire for the Tide when Scott’s punt was blocked by Myles Garrett and recovered for the Aggies at the Bama 29. Jonathan Allen turned in a third down sack, forcing a 52-yard field goal that was way short.

Alabama had something of a fits-and-starts drive, but eventually worked to a fourth-and-two at the Aggies 26. Saban rolled the dice, a quick pitch and outside run by Henry for a first down at the 20, but the offense couldn’t get it in. After being iced by a CBS commercial on fourth down at the 15, Griffith nailed his 32-yard field goal to make it a 31-20 game.

On the last play of the third quarter, Allen tried a pass over the middle, and Jackson was waiting for it at the Alabama 45. He returned it to the A&M 28. On a third-and-six, Coker scrambled for 16 yards to the Aggies 8. After a two-yard loss, Coker scrambled for eight more yards, but on fourth down Bama had to settle for Griffith’s 20-yard field goal and a 34-20 lead.

The Aggies came back with a nice drive, but had to settle for a 36-yard field goal, cutting the Bama lead to 34-23 with just under eight minutes to play.

Bama couldn’t move and had to punt, but A&M still couldn’t always pass well. Fitzpatrick got his second interception of the day at the Alabama 45 and went 55 yards for the score to wrap up the game with just over five minutes to play.

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